Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Extreme nose blowing and a new invention - the "third sock"

This is a compilation of odd observations: 

* Up til this morning, I have never seen a person blow their nose on a leaf.

* In the park, I saw a couple - on two bikes - holding hands as they biked along. Dangerous, but nice.

* And strangest of all. I saw a police car flagging down a car which had gone late through red lights. Fancy that - the police actually stopping a car for a minor traffic infringement.

~ I also have a tricky question. A certain rather delicate part of me got pretty much frozen on my way in this morning. I'm wondering if anyone has yet invented a ... "third sock"?~

Monday, 22 November 2010

Give your paniers a pit-stop. Cycling tip du jour, Monday

My bicycle paniers were a disgrace. "Stuff" gets shoved in at the beginning and end of every day. I'm good at removing clothes and food, but bits of paper, batteries, lights, old puncture repair bits, inner tubes, remnants of burst sweet packets, plastic bags, coins, straps, nuts and bolts - you name it - remains in there from week to week.

Can anyone else claim to have more "rubbish" in their
paniers? Source: karmacycle
I eventually got driven to distraction and grasped the nettle. I simply tipped everything out on my desk (sorry, colleagues), emptied any nasty bits straight into the bin, and sorted through it all.

In reality it only took about 15 minutes and was quite satisfying. Among my finds was a £45 credit note with E Chamberlain bikes, so I made a profit too.

Come on cyclists of the world. You owe it to yourself to empty your paniers too.  Does anyone have more stuff in their paniers than me?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Who's been struck in the head by a pigeon, while biking? It happened to me this morning

I can't resist telling you this one - perhaps it's a common occurrence for cyclists.

I was cycling gently through Victoria Park this morning, near the lake by the Pavilion. My 3 year-old daughter was in the child-seat behind me.

Suddenly a flock of pigeons flew across the path - towards the water. I was right in the middle of the flock. Normally you'd expect them to avoid you. That's what birds do, isn't it?

Lovely photo by professional photographer
Simon de Glanville - Source
Well, one came thwacking into my head. Luckily I was wearing my helmet, which took the brunt of the hit. It didn't really hurt, but was pretty shocking. And unusual, I would have thought.

A quick query on Twitter was inconclusive about whether people get hit reguarly.

But this was revealing:

almacdSE1 @karmacycle I get pigeoned a lot in east London. Round Aldgate. Odd.
Anyway, if you have anything to add about the subject of being hit by birds while biking, please add to this blog by hitting the comment button!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Don't bother changing your cycle clothes - cycling tip du jour, Tuesday

Nicole Jackson at the office in her cycling clothes
Photograph: Martin Godwin/
Source - article about forgetting clothes

I've done this by mistake today, but quite like it. If you're not too stinky and not too wet from your ride into work, why not just keep your cycling clothes on all day? Today I had a few informal meetings and no-one seemed to mind my get-up. In fact it triggered off a few conversations about cycling and how we should set a work-place trend to wear cycling gear. Make all those people in smart clothes look out of place!

If nothing else, the impression you leave is that you're rather sporty. Useful for closing that deal?

The creators of this blog accept no liability in the event of employee dismissal, clients deciding to go with alternative offers, being laughed at during meetings, having noses held during workplace encounters, or generally any other ill effects associated with wearing of aforementioned clothes in the workplace.

But go on - give it a go. And tell us how you get on.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Cycling tip du jour, Monday. How to stay warm on your bike

Any soldier will tell you that the sure way to demoralise an army is for the men and women of the forces to have cold, wet feet.

Cyclists and soldiers need
dry warm feet. Source
Personally, I'm a complete wimp about my hands - the moment they start getting cold, I'm misery.

And the final part of the anatomy - ears. I once arrived in Canada in the midwinter with boots and a coat, but nothing around my ears. I practically passed out with ear-pain before I'd gone a block.

So, cyclists, now that it's getting "proper cold", the key bits of gear, in my view, are:

- some combination on your feet to keep warm - thermal socks, tough shoes/boots and ideally waterproofing
- good gloves (I've got my eye now on some Sealskinz, said to be fully waterproof too)
- ear cover. I've got a tube of material which normally goes round my neck, but can be lifted up to the head to go around the old lug-holes.

There you go. The rest of the body generally can get pretty warm just by the effort of cycling, assuming you've got something half decent to stop the wind.

May I recommend that for a nice reminder of how cycling in the winter can actually be possibly more saitsfying than in the summer, have a look at ibikelondon's excellent article "Are you ready to cycle through winter?"

Friday, 12 November 2010

Cycling tip du jour, Friday. How to calm down after a near miss or angry incident

They should be our friends! Source
Motorcycle News
I needn't dwell on the details, but I had a terrifying moment yesterday - a little bit of politeness on my part - allowing a fellow cyclist to go ahead of me - with me slowing right down - nearly saw me mown down by a motorbike rider who'd shot off from nearby lights at full throttle. Of course he swore at me because as far as he was concerned I was a xxxxing idiot in his way and hadn't got out of the road.

OK, we can talk about blame and whether I shouldn't have done the polite thing, whether the design of the road is right, whether motorbikes should take more care etc etc. But the issue for me is - how can I prevent something like that eating away at me, and stop me simmering with resentment....? How should you calm down after an incident like that?

A few responses from friends on Twitter certainly helped:

muppixdotnet @karmacycle learn to ride a motorcycle yourself, then surround yourself by typical cyclists. Guarantee you'll learn a lot.

lardychap @thefixedfactor @karmacycle zen. Works for me. That and the knowledge that being angry doesn't bother the other person at all. Fixed helps

moriati23 @karmacycle Several days of bitter resentment and fantasising about 'Great Escape' style motorcycle + wire revenge is the only way to go.

thefixedfactor @karmacycle Zen. There are a million near misses in London every day. There are two million angry people. You don't have to be one of them.

sussexlad @karmacycle ah, motorcyclists. always surprising how they are not our side isn't it?
It's so darn difficult to stop yourself getting angry, but I think the Zen answer - or, as I've recently put it - calm-a-cycle - is the only way to go. Somehow, to remember that you are not alone, that it does not help to get angry, that there is nothing you can usefully do, all helps. In a slightly defeatist way.
I've also wondered, on a more constructive note, if us cyclists should in some clever way join forces with motorbike folks - online of course - and share a few experiences and thoughts (in a nice way) so we get a better understanding of needs/priorities/fears.
Does anyone know if a such a forum/place exists? Would us cyclists be welcome on a motorbike board?
Anyway, I'm feeling much more zen-like this morning after a nice ride in today - so have a good weekend all, and remember - calm-a-cycle

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Cycling tip du jour, Thursday. Spotting and dealing with sudden gusts

The UK is currently being battered by high winds. In the cities, the wind is barreling through the streets, then eddying in unexpected directions when it hits a brick wall or enormous building. It comes in waves and can be frightening - especially if you're on a bike and being blown around the road in traffic.

On my journey this morning, I realised that I could to some extent anticipate the arrival of a sudden gust. On the canal it was easy as you can see the water rippling darkly as the wind approaches. On the roads you can do it a bit too.

Look for "tells" - the trees and bushes suddenly coming to life. Pedestrians nearby being blown suddenly, umbrellas exploding inside out. Puddles can give clues - they'll ripple too as the wind gets close.

How to cope ...

The key thing is to use the warning to take evasive action. I don't necessarily mean avoiding the gust, but making sure you've got plenty of room on the road around you. This is because if you do actually get blown to one side, it won't be too dangerous as you are in space, not right next to a car.

Also - remember that you can actually stop! A lot of cyclists seem to think it's beneath their pride to stop and wait for a bit - but if the wind is horrendous and the traffic is terrible, why not pull over and wait for a bit - or walk along the pavement and take a quieter route?

I suspect that if you're clever you can chose roads where you know the wind will be consistent rather than gusty - e.g. a long thin corridor type road. But I'm not that clever.

Generally, when the weather's like this, I would go for the smaller roads where possible and be even more careful about giving yourself plenty of time - and plenty of room from other vehicles.

If all else fails. attach a sail to your bike:

I blogged about sail bikes
in Sept last year ...

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Cycling tip du jour, Wednesday: Never trust people to give-way

This means: give way to traffic
on major road. A full guide can be
found on the Highway Code
Had a nasty little scare on the journey in this morning. I was cycling along George Street just West of Marylebone High Street. Manchester Street was coming up on my left, where there's a set of give-way markings - meaning, of course, that anything coming out of Manchester Street should give way or "cede" to those on George Street. Taking the sign at its word, I cycled past it.

But to my horror, a pretty enormous truck, clearly belting down Manchester Street, appeared on my left, and seemed not to be stopping. I started shouting and waving my hand, and he did actually come to a rest, but with the cab of his truck about 2-3 feet extended beyond the give-way sign. He did nearly hit me, and I'm still not clear whether he actually intended to stop, or just habitually stops beyond the dotted line.

Whatever happens, it led me to think that a good cyclist should not go close to the curb, and indeed should be aiming wherever possible to cycle in the middle of the road so if a car or truck doesn't stop properly, you've a fighting chance of being seen.

And the other thing I learned - just because there's a give-way marking, it doesn't mean they're going to stop. Assume the worst.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Cycling tip du jour, Tuesday. How to arrive at a set of traffic lights.

This is kind of light-hearted but I suspect there's more than a grain of truth in it.

First of all, ask yourself: are you a slow, medium or fast cyclist? Are you expecting to pull away from the lights quickly or slowly?

If you are in the medium or slow category, and there's a fellow cyclist ahead of you waiting at a light - and he or she looks like they might be quick - don't edge in front of them. They were there first and will be annoyed at having to get around you.

Now of course it's not a hard and fast rule, and you can't judge a book by its cover. Someone wearing lycra head to toe might still be slow. And what if you're medium and the other person looks medium too? Or both slow?

But anyway, it is worth thinking about. And there's a serious point too - if someone is having to pull around you, they may be in the path of a car coming from behind.

I would also add:

- don't try to sneak down beside a bus or lorry, especially if you don't know how soon the lights will change
- it's generally polite not to hover right in front of a motorbike, especially if there's room elsewhere for you

Monday, 8 November 2010

Cycling tip du jour, Monday: post-ride bike care

Most of us are so relieved to get to our destination - not to mention probably being late for something - that we lock up the trusty bike and rush off.

The poor old bike, meanwhile, sits there, perhaps pining for its owner, while the water from the rain (especially on a day such as today) slowly seeps into every possible joint, opening, corner, nut, bolt, etc etc.

A trusty rag. Source - Bike Radar which has an excellent 
guide to cleaning bikes

Solution - spend just 4 minutes with an old rag (I have an old T-shirt of my wife's which does sterling service) wiping off the worst of the water, paying particular attention to the chain area. It's mucky work, but will pay off when you don't get squeaky rusting parts down there.

Then, hang up rag to dry, and you're off to work or wherever feeling vaguely smug.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Cycling tip du jour, Tuesday. How to stick out your hand and indicate

Bicycle indication appears to be a dying art. Yet if ever I'm driving a car, I find it incredibly useful to know if:

1) a bike's suddenly going to turn right
2) which exit they're planning on getting off the roundabout on
3) if the cyclist is planning on nipping round a slowing down bus or lorry
4) generally, any information is gold dust in terms of knowing what they're about to do

Well, I was thinking about this quite a bit today as I biked across London, and was again struck by how many cyclists don't bother. It's actually quite easy once you've practiced a bit, so a few ideas:

Looking back and signalling: Source
 - in a car we're told "mirror, signal, manoeuvre". We don't normally have the mirror bit, so I'd generally advocate: "glance back, signal, manoeuvre".
- indicate giving the maximum notice
- stick that arm out boldly and with confidence, don't do it half-heartedly
- if you're sure the car behind you has clocked you and knows what you're about to do, start your turn with confidence
- there's always a tricky bit when you start turning - this is the moment to grab both handle-bars. You DO NOT want to start your manoeuvre with only one hand!

When I'm doing a little nip around a stationary bus or something, I try to incorporate a friendly wave at the driver behind me too - though arguably this is taking things too far. But it's good to acknowledge that a driver has often slowed down to let you pull out.

I'm often also heard to mutter "thanks for not killing me" but I tend to keep that to myself.

Good luck. KC

PS there's a good site Montgomery Bicycle Class which gives some good tips on this

Beautiful London morning in autumn; cycling through leaves in Victoria Park

Nuff said?

Monday, 1 November 2010

Cycling tip du jour, Monday: look behind you!

On my ride in this morning, I was struck by how few cyclists seem to know what's going on behind them. On a personal note it's irritating because fellow cyclists might not know that you're trying to overtake - and they're taking up half the road because of their position.

On a safety note, it's important to know how many monstrous trucks or impatient vans are revving up behind you, so you can be prepared to take the necessary action.

Cars, motorbikes, vans and trucks find it reassuring to know that you the cyclist are aware of their presence behind you.

And I've seen it argued that if a car or truck can see your face occasionally, they recognise you as a human being not just a bicycle, and may behave better.

Don't take this to extremes. Looking forwards is important too. I'm talking occasional but regular glances back, not riding with your head pointing the wrong way ...

Useful links:

Rather pompous sounding article but good tips on "Vehicular Cycling" at Wikipedia
There's a fear-inducing American site called Bicycle Safe, worth a read
Very long but decent article about bike safety by Myra VanInwegen

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Cycling tip du jour, Thursday. Surprise a pedestrian.

I tried this on my way into work this morning:

Ride towards zebra/pedestrian crossing. Spot pedestrian loitering, showing some intent to cross.

Come to gradual halt before you reach the crossing. Nod, even smile encouragingly at pedestrian to let them know you have actually stopped for them, and they can actually cross.

They get to other side of road.

This actually becomes rewarding as the pedestrian is first astonished, then normally thankful, and more often than not, you get a nice smile.

Don't go overboard though. The pedestrian does not want to be hugged or kissed.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Cycling tip du jour: using your bike as a washing line

In this kind of weather, you can get soaked pretty quickly. So what should do with wet clothes?

Easy. Hang them up all over your bike. You'd be amazed by how many hooks there are on your bike - handle bars, back rack, main frame, even pedals. By the end of the day, assuming your bike is actually in doors somewhere (e.g. at work) you should have much drier clothes.

Tip - make sure you have other clothes to change into. I'm not recommending running around naked at work. Though I must confess I haven't tried it ...

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Save the Hackney rabbit!

I often cycle past this, and it invariably cheers me up. The Hackney Road is generally a horrid road to cycle along, and this kind of art helps make it feel a lot nicer. It's also by quite a well known artist, ROA. Some more examples of his excellent work can be found here. (also at the Londonist site). We now hear the council want to whitewash it. I've signed a petition via the Londonist website to spare the wabbit. You may want to too.

Cycling tip du jour - fixing a nut underneath your mudguard

The nuts and bolts holding on my mudguards seem to fall off like leaves from an autumn tree. It's got more common since I've been pumping up my tyres harder - and I rattle around like a marble in a tumble drier. I was baffled as to how on earth I could insert and tighten a missing screw right above my rear wheel - without taking off the whole wheel.

Source: the local data company
The lovely guys at Cavendish Cycles (134-136 New Cavendish Street) showed me how:

  1. Place bike on bike stand, or turn upside down. 
  2. Let out air from tyre. 
  3. Insert screw and nut and tighten using longish allen key or equivalent as there's now room to get at it.
  4. Re-inflate tyre. Ride off, feeling happy.

They also play 6Music in the shop, for which they should immediately get a gold medal for services to cyclists.

Curious fact: I can't actually find a website for Cavendish cycles. Perhaps they don't have one?

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Don't go in the bike lane. Bring the bike lane with you.

This is such an interesting idea - almost certainly completely impractical, but what do you think?

The bike lane that travels with you. Source
Thanks to @nextbikerider for pointing this one out.

Wanted to show you cute Halloween kitten too but clearly my internal editing system has decided that it's not relevant to the blog and should not be uploaded!

Monday, 11 October 2010

Does your bike feel like it's flagging? Time to give it some air.

My previous post was all about speed. I have a little update. I changed my front tyre last night as I happened to have a spare Schwalbe Marathon in my shed (long story). I finally checked what the make was of my existing tyres, and it turns out they're called Maxxis Detonators - or, as I now know them, pin cushions. They seem to absorb glass and nails as methodically and surely as a sponge soaks up water. The website does call them "training" tyres - does that mean they're not for actual racing or indeed road use of any kind? Anyway, off one of them came, and off the other one will come as soon as I can get another Schwalbe.

Pump it baby

But that's not what I want to talk about. Because at the same time I pumped up my tyres to very close to the limit recommended. I set off with a bit of trepidation this morning. It was definitely a "harder" ride and my rack and paniers were shaking and rattling like never before. But ... my whole ride was transformed! It was like moving from a scooter to a motorbike, or sludge to crisp snow. It felt like I was going about twice the speed with so much less difficulty. I realised that I'd spent the last two or three weeks with a nasty feeling of going through treacle.

Pumped up in the sun

So the moral - should you need it - is that it's worth investing in a really meaty pump and filling up those thar tyres!

With the sun shining, the canal looking lovely, and much more wind in my hair (well, helmet anyway) it was one of the most delightful rides of the year.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

What makes a cyclist go faster?

I had an odd experience on the canal a couple of days ago. (I know, this sounds like the beginning of a dodgy story possibly involving unsavoury characters, a heron, and a canoe). But read on, it's cycling related, I promise.

This is not the Regent's Canal! Source
OK, so in the very quiet bit just West of London Zoo, I see a long stretch of empty towpath. It's dry and I can go as fast or slow as I want. I decide to experiment with speed. (No, this is not, I tell you, a dingy tale of class A drugs and depravity). I'm on a hybrid Giant Zero, as regular readers will know. To you and me, that means it's a "normal" looking bike with straight handlebars. I think to myself - what if I kind of pretend I'm on a road bike/racer, and kind of squat down like they do on the Tour de France or this fellow in the picture going down a mountain?

A new feeling on the bike

It's interesting doing it because as soon as I lean forwards, I realise that I have to loosen up my shoulders, which I'd been holding very tight. I lean so my head is nearly on the handlebars, and all of a sudden it's a completely new feeling with my legs pushing in a different way. I look at the speedometer thingie, and see that I've suddenly increased my speed by about 4kph, and I still feel I've got more in me.

Position or wind resistance?

Clearly my bike's not designed for me to bike like that and I'm sure that if I kept it up for a long time it would get mighty uncomfortable. But then I start doing a bit research about speed. These seem to be the key ingredients for going faster:

What are the factors that make you faster or slower?

  • Fitness and practice. Clearly you need these just to get started on faster biking
  • Drag or resistance from tyres. This seems to be why some people swear by thinner tyres, pumped up to astonishing levels of pressure. It reduces the resistance on the road. But there seems to be some dispute about whether the actual width of the tyre really makes that much difference. The consensus from what I can tell is that pumping up your tyres high every day will make quite a difference
  • Resistance created by rider. This is where my experiment seems to come in - if you're bent down, there's less body for the wind to push against. This is apparently called a "racing tuck".
Just like me, he's got his head right down. Similarity ends there. Source

  • Weight of bike/rider. Again there's disputing how much of a factor this is, but clearly you're going to have to work harder to go faster if you're carrying around half a tonne of bricks in your panniers
  • Gears, pedals, "rotor rings" and suchlike. There's quite a lot of anecdotal evidence that upgrading your pedals, getting a more efficient set of gears and changing to "rotor rings" (don't worry, I'd never heard of them before either) might improve your speed
  • Wind drag on the bike itself. From what I can tell, the effect of this is pretty negligable
  • The type of bike you have. Mountain, Road, Hybrid, reclining, other. Some cyclists claim that there's about a 15MPH difference between when they ride their MTB and when they ride their road bike!
Take it easy though

I guess it should also be said that you're not going to be going very fast in the city if:

1) you're battling against a headwind
2) you're in a monsoon-like downpour
3) you're weaving between several bendy buses on Oxford Street

But these seem like an interesting start in terms of speed, and I'd be interested to hear whether others have views ... when you do want to go fast, how should you do it?

Further reading and links:

- Good archive thread with quite a lot detail in bikeforums
- Good review of what rotor rings look like and are on Bike Radar
- Long but reasonably interesting video about aerodynamics etc on Wonderhowto site

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

My blog's lost its mojo - can anyone help it?

Hi - I'm sorry to say that I'm going through another period of what we bloggers would call "blog doubt" if anyone had actually bothered to think up a name for it. I'll list a few reasons why I haven't updated recently, and perhaps you could then advise on whether I should:

a) stop the blog
b) make it change direction or focus
c) carry on regardless

So here's why I'm despondant:

1) I like updating on Twitter - more immediate and fast response. And very easy to follow a very wide range of views and opinion
2) I'm very frustrated by the way Blogger doesn't display comments below the post (is this just me being thick?) on the main page - only on individual post pages
3) Generally I  think visitors perhaps don't realise how easy it is to comment - it's not clear how you do it?
4) I hate the way when I send out an email of the blog post, it always sends out the full blog post, so those receiving it can read it all in email, rather than having to click on the link to go to the blog
5) I'm worried that I'm concentrating too much on the trivial banalities of cycling, giving little that's new to folk
6) To be honest, I'm a bit disappointed by the traffic to the site, had hoped for more (though thankfully we are seeing a steady increase)

all of this adds up to existential blog angst. I'm trying not to sound whingey - just interested to know what you guys thought, and which direction I should go in next ... KC

PS I've just thought of the irony of what would happen if no-one commented at all ... we'll see.

Friday, 24 September 2010

A bike quote not quite by Oscar Wilde

I was proud of making this one up on my bike this morning .With apologies to Oscar Wilde:

Bikes: "we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the cars"

Probably time to get back in my box.


Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Chicken bike, a cool bike wine label, and the best graffiti I've ever seen ...

I don't want to chat much today, so I'll just pop up some photos - which are better than a thousand words. Perhaps even ten.

I drank this bottle (not alone!) and loved the label:
Wine is l'echappee du ventoux by Paul Jaboulet - from the Wine Society - design due to fact that Tour de France goes past the vineyards

Next, a bike dressed a chicken (I thought it was an owl at first) at the Hackney City Farm The guys there tell me that when you pedal, you power a TV and sound system. I guess the chickeny part of the concept is a clever joke about battery hen farming ... or possibly just because it's more fun like that

Chicken bike:

The chicken bike also generates leccy

Finally, the graffiti - nothing really to do with biking, but I spotted it while on my bike at the top of City Road up at Islington in London. So beautifully, judged, in my opinion. The ad is sort of begging for someone to write something in that huge white space. And this person, whoever it was, did not hesitate
Make a Statement graffiti:

Hope you can see the "addition"
I took a close up too for those who can't see the above: 

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The mother of all punctures - on my London bike commute

Can you see the screw sticking right into my tyre, like someone hammered it in? Well, I got that just as I was cycling along the bike lane off Tavistock Square. Clang clang clang, thought something had got caught in my wheel. One very long screw.  Here it is again.

I wrestled with the puncture for half an hour, putting patches on the inner tube, but failed as it had been shredded. I wanted to change the inner tube but didn't have a spanner which would have loosened the wheel. So, KarmaCycle, would you believe it, admitted defeat and got in a taxi with LCM (London Commuting Machine i.e. my bike) and headed home, tail between my legs. On the plus side, I had a super-nice taxi driver and together we sorted out London's transport problems. Here's another rather blurry view after I'd pulled the screw out a bit:

Has anyone else had a punture like that, where the screw/nail just plunges straight in? Was it left in the bike lane sticking up? Did it fall at a freak angle poking upwards? Did someone come and hammer it in while I was stopped at the lights for a second? I need a forensic puncturologist.

Monday, 13 September 2010

A few cycling updates for you to have a look at

I've been spending more time on Twitter than the blog recently so have not been as "regular" as I should - for which, apologies. I also thought it might be worth me putting in a few more links to things related to cycling, rather than just banging on about my own experiences in London. As ever, feedback welcome.

But first, Me

It's always me me me isn't it. Well, I can safely say that my "everlasting cold" is now over, since you ask - and I think I'm now getting back to match fitness. Not that I play any matches. But I feel energised again by biking, and more importantly I'm not keeping my wife awake at night with my hacking cough. Seems that the doctor's surprising prescription (see earlier post ) might have done the trick

The bike

Time to get those lights on the bike again, I'm afraid. After what felt like a supreme effort, I finally managed to:

1) find front and rear light
2) find the right battery for them both
3) re-fit rear light to bike despite it not really being compatible
4) avoid leaving lights flashing overnight in the shed (so far). I find this last one an unavoidable winter activity

For your entertainment

It's great to discover a new cycling blog - and I'm annoyed I haven't found this one before as I'm finding it hilarious. The blog is called The Lo Fidelity Bicycle Club  They've recently invented a whole Highway Code with items such as this:

213 Motorcyclists and cyclists may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet or icy patches on the road which the cycle lane runs through. Give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make by sounding your horn, winding down your window and informing them that they should NOT be on the road (also see Rule 204).
 Anyway, it made me chortle.

Upright - better for your back?
Sit upright, not forwards:

Interesting article suggesting sitting upright on your bike is much better for your back. Can be found on Bike Biz here.

Cycle escorts not used during tube strike?

And here's some news reporting union claims that bike "escorts" sat idle during the recent London tube strike. I didn't actually know there were any, so I'd be interested if anyone out there can report anything different. The article is reported on PA

Safe biking to one and all. KC

Monday, 6 September 2010

Quick - get on that bike, there's a tube strike

With the tube strike due to hit London at 5pm today, surely now's as good a moment as any to dust off that bike you've been keeping at the back of the shed, check the tyres and brakes, and get going - perhaps tomorrow morning would be best.

There's a timely link on the cycle site advising anyone who hasn't ridden in London before to check the site to see a likely route. It rather cunningly lets you plug in your start and finish locations, then gives you three options - fast, medium and most quiet.

Slightly oddly, the Transport for London journey planner site also does a cycle route option. It's a bit fiddly and you have check and uncheck various options, but you do get a decent route at the end of it.

I've been trying the Sustrans site but I can't for the life of me get it to do a route "from" and "to" somewhere.

Anyway, if you are thinking of riding tonight or tomorrow and feel a bit nervous - good luck. Most of the time it's fun. Try not to get intimidated by cars and motorbikes, use common sense don't try to to be too "nippy" and fancy ... go gently, with the flow.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Doctor's orders - a cocktail of drugs, and get back on your bike

More attentive readers may have observed me banging on in my Twitter feed about how sick I am, how I'm now in my third week of having a cold and generally whingeing about not being on my bike.

You know how men are alleged never to visit the doctor? Well, that felt like a challenge to me, so I decided that I would buck current trends and go and see one, and at the very least have a good moan about my everlasting cold.

Drugs smorgasbord

I went to see the good doctor yesterday. He did some good work with his stethascope and quickly surmised that in spite of my fears, the infection had not spread to my chest. Relief. But was it OK to have a horrible cough and a miserably runny nose for weeks on end? Oh yes, a virus can be with you for weeks - nothing abnormal about that. So what can I do about it? Well, here was the surprising bit.

He said - don't do what a doctor says, but what he does. When he has a virus like that he takes:

- two paracetamol
- two ibuprofen
- one sudafed

Remember folks - I'm a blogger not a doctor!

all at the same time, every four hours! My God, I feel vaguely guilty about taking two paracetamol when I have a headache - God knows what this cocktail of drugs will do!

Wow. What about wine. Can I drink wine?

Oh yes - no problem there.

And (of most pertinence to this blog, of course) - should I be on my bike? And here was his best answer:

"Listen to your body". If it makes you feel tired and horrid, don't. If you feel good, go for it.


I came away from the surgery reeling a bit as I'd never have expected any of those things. I stocked up on the necessary drugs, went home, took some, drank wine. Slept better than I have for weeks. Got on my bike this morning and had a lovely, leisurely ride through London on a glorious sunny day.  Amazing how some positive advice from a doctor can transform you.

I'm sure many of you have doubts about the wisdom of this advice - but it seems to be working so far.

Any thoughts out there about when not to bike - for medical reasons - or indeed, strange things doctors have told you to do?

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Altercation with a van - driver suddenly goes mute

I had a bit of a tricky situation on my way home yesterday. There's a bit of road - for those of you who may know London a bit - which comes down past the Brunswick Centre in Russell Square - it's called Bernard Street. To get into Grenville Street at the bottom, you have to go right, which is normally fine. But another road filters into Grenville Street too from the opposite direction. Now in theory this is fine too because the traffic coming the other way has a give-way dotted line - so you have the priority from Bernard Street.

Van rude

Anyway, I was doing my stuff, when I saw a green van taking the other road. Somehow I could sense that the driver was not paying any attention to traffic coming from the other direction and I immediately suspected he would not give way. Sure enough, totally ignoring the give way markings and not even noticing that there was a cyclist coming into the same road with the right of way, he ploughed on.

Right to silence?

Luckily I'd slowed down enough to avoid a collision. I fear that a less savvy cyclist might have been hit. Anyway, he had his window open, so I asked him if he'd seen the give way markings. Silence, staring straight ahead. I asked again. Silence. It was almost comical, but infuriating. I suppose he was so used to "bloody cyclists" berating him or "getting in the way" that he simply didn't care. Another more sinister explanation, which I only thought of later, was that he was completely stoned and didn't really know what he was doing. He looked the type.

Anyway, I had to cycle off, muttering about how dangerous he was.

Vicious circle

Just another motorist/cyclist contretemps in London - there are probably hundreds every day. Maybe he's learnt something. Maybe not. I have. Look upon cars or vans with the utmost suspicion - it's highly likely they won't do what they're meant to do.  Sadly, as my wife pointed out last night, the same could be said of a large number of cyclists, so this vicious circle is likely to continue. What do we need everyone? Karma, that's right!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Would you stop to help someone whose bike has a puncture? A London bicycling insight ...

I'm back. Forgive the blog silence but I've spent the last few weeks looking after my lovely kids rather than scything my way through London's mean streets. And for the record, it was a superb time though I am now far more tired than I've been in years and I've got a terrible cold I can't shake off. I never normally get them. Is there a connection between cycling inactivity and sickness? Yes.

Blob of jelly

Anyway, I was determined to get back on the LCM (London Commuting Machine for those new to the blog) this morning. The three weeks of inactivity certainly took their toll. I was like a blob of jelly on a bike and found it quite difficult to steer properly. I was (yet again) wearing too many clothes and started boiling pretty quickly. I found myself not really being bothered about overtaking anyone (normally I'm tediously but secretly competitive), and this pretty much applied to pedestrians.

The puncture moment

To add to the general indignity, after only 5 minutes or so along the canal, I felt the familiar sensation of the front wheel becoming unresponsive when steering and a quick look down revealed just what I suspected - the tyre was flat.

Always carry one of these!
I parked up on the grass beside the canal and started fixing it, pleased that at least I'd got the right tools. As I worked, I realised that I was feeling pretty relaxed, not caring much about how quickly I did it. And I started wondering, casually, if any other cyclists would stop to ask if I was OK or if I needed a hand.

The kind Brompton man

I would add that I probably looked at least half confident in what I was doing, so there was probably no need. But towards the end, a lovely guy on a Brompton slowed down and asked very nicely if I had everything - I told him I was fine, but thanks - and he cycled off. It made me feel great and brought a smile to my face. Then I realised I was being eaten alive by some really horrid bugs - possibly mosquitoes - and rushed to get through the job and the hell out of there. Guess that slow moving canal water, grassy verges and a sweating cyclist mean paradise for blood-sucking creatures.

Anyway - thought du jour, as they say - is this: even if someone looks like they know what they're doing, it can make all the difference to stop and ask if someone's OK if they're by the road or river with the old bike upside down. Spread that karma now, you know it makes sense.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

"Wish I'd started earlier..."

Nice comment in the showers at work (sorry for putting that image into your heads) - colleague in his 40's, after we'd had a bit of a chat about our cycle in and compared notes on bikes (God we're dull aren't we?!), he said:  "I only wish I'd started biking to work years ago". I assumed he was talking about physique. "You mean - in terms of fitness?" I asked. "No", he said, "so I wouldn't have had so many miserable years on the tube".

Sort of know what he means. Once you're out there above ground it seems inconceivable to be forced to go under there every day.

And it made me think - it's never too late to start. Then I had my shower. The shower room was so hot, by the way, that I think (again, forgive the unpleasant image) I was more sweaty after it than before.

Friday, 23 July 2010

I've biked too much in London recently ... is it OK to have a break from 2 wheels?

I'm wondering if it's just a sign of old age, or whether a commuter can occasionally get "bike fatigue". I've been deligently cycling back and forth across what feels like most of London for weeks, and I just feel knackered.

This is about how tired I feel ...
I was going up a pretty long and steep hill behind a fellow cyclist yesterday. When we got to the top I said "Wow, that was some good excercise!" She said "yes, and I just feel fed up with cycling at the end of a long day". I kind of knew exactly what she meant.

Anyway, I decided to take the tube this morning, something I probably haven't done for about 4 weeks. I actually rather enjoyed the journey (I know, heresy) and I'm looking forward to being whisked home without me having to make an effort tonight.

BTW - the old Giant Seek Zero is due for its 3 month service. I'm beginning to worry that it's rather a slowpoke. That might just be me feeling ... tired (is there a theme developing here?!).

Friday, 2 July 2010

Man gives car driver a sound ticking off. He deserves a medal.

This isn't strictly bike related, but I did see the incident while on my bike, and is also about road users, so indulge me, please.

The road I live on has a 20 MPH speed limit. It has a sign which flashes "20!" when people go over 20. But probably more often than not, it's ignored. Some motorbikes (sorry fellow 2-wheelers, I know most of you are very decent!) seem to see it as a challenge to accelerate as fast as they can when they see that sign and try to achieve 50, 60 MPH.

I was getting on to my bike just outside the door. There's normally just enough time to get on and head off at a reasonable speed before a car comes round the bend. This morning I had just got on when a very noisy car sped round the bend. I had to pull in to the side of the road again and wait til he had gone past as I hadn't picked up enough speed to feel confident. I thought nothing of it as I'm used to cars speeding.

Cut to the traffic lights at the end of my road. I'm waiting at the lights when I hear a raised voice behind me. It's a pedestrian and he's leaning over the railings telling the driver of the above-mentioned car off - pretty firmly. Not shouty, but assertively. He's saying that the driver should slow down. That there are children all over the place (true). That he'll "quite happily report you to the police, my friend".

I felt like prostrating myself on the road in admiration and respect (though of course that would be dangerous). How many of us actually dare nowadays to say something to a driver who's going well over the speed limit? The road really does have loads of schoolchildren crossing all over the place at that time of morning, and cars really do need to go carefully. But how many of us say anything?

OK, I've made my point. I'm a coward, and there's someone brave and decent out there. I salute you. Enough said.


Friday, 25 June 2010

Link to that video?

Next you'll be actually wanting to watch that video ... here's a link to YouTube where you should find it. Sorry. KC

Still a bit of confusion over "two tings" bike guidance on the Regent's Canal, London

I had a funny experience on the canal this morning which I can share with you as I had helmet cam on. Being the good citizen I now am, I was dutifully tinging away as I made my merry way down the canal in the beautiful sunshine.

I went past the two lady joggers you see first with no problem. But when it came to the men - well, it was just odd that the reaction on hearing the tings was to run diagonally across the path. I kind of guess he was thinking "I have to get out of the way" while I was thinking "I'm just warning them I'm here". I sort of think this is probably the source of all canal conflict. In fact it's probably how most wars are started - unclear intentions and misinterpretion. Discuss.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Pinkie on its way back to rude health after bike accident

Good news from bro-in-law (injured this week after going into the back of a car) - he had surgery (a general anaesthetic no less) but didn't need to stay in hospital overnight. Has huge cast which should come off tomorrow. The main worry now of course is ... how the hell to type and use a mouse when your finger is wrapped up. And even more important - how soon do you get back on your bike after an accident like that?

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Thoughts to brother-in-law with broken finger in London bike accident

As they possibly say on the radio still - a big shout out to my famed bro-in-law who is the oracle on this blog for anything to do with bikes and biking - he had a nasty accident yesterday in Homerton, London - while cycling very gently behind a car on a quiet street, the car rather suddenly came to a halt, and he went into the back of the car. He was more concerned about the car and the driver initially - but after they'd parted ways, he realised he was bleeding quite a lot and had a crooked little finger.

8 hours later and having attended two A&E departments he was released but will have to go in for surgery today on a snapped ligament and some other pinkie-related matters. And he's being kept in overnight tonight.

Best of luck Lex - thinking of you. KC

Clever trick of freezing your bike water bottle - but be careful!

I thought I would be extra clever as I knew it was going to be what we British call a "scorcher" here in London (29 degrees forecast) - so I put my water bottle in the freezer overnight. I cleverly didn't fill it up all the way, as any fool knows that water expands and didn't want my water bottle to explode.

I took it out before the school run, thinking by the time I started my "commute proper" it would be nice and melted.

A dry journey

I hadn't done my calculations properly. The ice remained stubbornly solid in the bottle throughout my commute of nearly an hour. As a result, instead of beautiful cool water, I got ... nothing. Until I limped through the office doors.

Clearly there's a moral. I think probably about two hours of freezing might be optimal. Or take it out of the freezer first thing. Or - radical thought - perhaps just put some ice cubes in it!  Any other "keeping cool" tips out there?

Friday, 18 June 2010

Karma theory in practice ... occasionally it does work

Attentive readers (i.e. close family) might remember that a while ago I wrote about being wracked with guilt after not dismounting at a tricky pedestrian corner and nearly bumping into someone, and being shouted at. If you can bear to read about my experience, here's the post. Anyway, ever since then, I've approached that same corner with great caution and invariably dismounted when I see the sign telling me to do so.

Not all cyclists are psychos

Also invariably I never see anyone so I get this sense of doing a wonderful thing (OK, mildly sociable) and no-one witnessing my greatness. But sure enough, this karma thing came to the rescue. Yesterday, after my chat with the canal ranger, I carried on and dismounted at said spot near Little Venice. As I walked my bike along, a man stopped and thanked me - very sincerely - for walking my bike. We had a very nice chat about how dangerous that blind spot is for older people, how the police have tried to help, what it means for the Resident's Association, etc etc. We parted on very friendly terms, with him no doubt thinking that not all cyclists are psychopathic monsters, and me being chuffed to bits that I had taken the trouble to get off my bike for a few seconds. And somehow all the other times I had done it without being seen were justified.

Morality or karma?

It reminded me of something the canal ranger had said - when I asked him about whether I should "get extra points" for getting off my bike on the temporary jetty floating on the canal (see previous entry with video of the jetty). He said it was a case of your morality, not points. Well, I kind of take that to mean karma. And I'll continue to dismount while most others carry on cycling.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Meet your "canal ranger" and spread the love on London's Regent's canal ...

I went to a slightly unusual press conference this morning on the Regent's Canal, just by King's Cross, London. Unusual because it was really just a couple of us standing on the towpath with some very nice people from British Waterways. The message was - cyclists, "take it easy on the towpath". But I did also learn that there is a message for pedestrians too - when you hear the famous "two tings", you should try to stand aside to let the cyclist past. And, during peak times, take those headphones off. All very sensible.

Jo Young, Towpath Ranger

But I think what I found most fascinating about the whole thing is that there exists a ... "towpath ranger". And I met him. For some reason, I've always rather liked the idea of having the word "ranger" in my job description. Obviously you think of Lone Ranger, but there are all those other rangers out there in the USA fighting crime and generally making the world better. 

Anyway, Jo Young, by all accounts a seriously nice guy, spends his days roaming the towpath along the Regent's Canal on foot and on his bike, giving friendly advice to cyclists and pedestrians about how to behave on the Canal. And probably lots more besides.

I interviewed him using my helmet cam. Rather embarassingly, the interview is mainly with his reflective vest rather than his face, so I thought it best to save the embarassment and just stick a still up instead. 

A couple of things I found especially interesting: 

I asked him how bad the aggro is between pedestrians and cyclists - how many incidents? He said that in terms of reported collisions there were about ten in the last year. But clearly there's a lot more "low level" stuff where words are exchanged but no damage is done. Does ten seem a lot? I don't know.

He was also keen to stress that one bad experience with one cyclist tends to make the pedestrian tar all cyclists with the same brush - and vice versa. So a friendly wave, a thank you, a smile, especially when someone goes out of their way to wait for you, or help, makes all the difference. 

I asked him whether it's just coincidence that several parts of the canal are currently closed or part of a concerted improvement plan. He said it was just coincidence. 

He also said that if people reading this blog wanted to funnel questions or observations about the canal to him, he'd be happy to have me chat through issues with him. I promise that I'll bring some more sensible recording gear (e.g. iPhone) and get him properly in vision. Do use the comment form below if there are issues about the canal you want raised.

Anyway - all the info about the "two tings" campaign, and the things British Waterways has got organised for next week, National Bike Week, can be found at the Two Tings site.  

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The ultimate in bike desirability - silence

I had to make a pretty big detour on my way into work this morning. It was partly because large sections of the Regent's Canal seem to be shut down for repairs at the moment. But also because I was being driven slowly mad by the rattling of my bike rack. It was fitted to my lovely new bike when I bought my LCM (London Commuting Machine, actually a Giant Seek Zero) from Chamberlain's in Camden. But as I've been riding it pretty intensely every since, several screws worked loose -  and in fact on closer inspection, had popped out. So my bike has been rattling and it's also not great having your child on the bike seat while you worry about whether the whole rack is going to give way.

So I made a detour back to Chamberlain's. Sure enough, they're as lovely as ever and wasted no time in replacing the offending screws and bolts. They have a lovely way of selling stuff to you too where you actually feel great that you've bought something - in this case, I walked out with a bottle of chain lube. I'm impressed to say they didn't charge me for the screws or fitting them. I was sorely tempted by a fancy light you can buy with its own battery pack - but for £99 I didn't quite feel I could afford it.

Anyway, by now I was feeling rather late for work, so I got back down on the canal and sped off. I suddenly noticed something. The silence. It was fantastic. Obviously there's the slight sound of the wind in your ears and the low hum of the tyres on the towpath. But the bike itself - completely quiet.

That somehow felt better than having any number of gadgets or gear. Going at speed along a lovely stretch of canal with hardly another person in site - it's about as close to flying as you can get without actually taking off.

Consequently, when I finally did arrive at work I was in rather a good mood, rather exhilerated, and yes, a bit knackered. But nothing an enormous coffee and a muffin couldn't sort out.

So cyclists - fix that bolt, get that chain sorted, declare war on rattles. And sing along with me "Silent bike, holy bike ..." OK, perhaps forget that last bit.  KC

Friday, 4 June 2010

Not slacking, just away ...

Since you ask I am in Rye where it's truly the summer - people really are swimming in the sea - but where there are few bikes. I have noticed the occasional sturdy mountain bike cruising down to the beach, and there does seem to be a new bike route between Rye and Camber Sands, little used. It's definitely not the biker's paradise I saw on the Isle of Wight. Anyway, I'm not sorry to be out of the London heat, but slightly missing the Giant. Or possibly I should start calling it LCM - the London Commuting Machine. Perhaps not. Of course, just as I write about the lack of bikes in Rye, one whistles down the main high street right by my ear! KC

Friday, 28 May 2010

Possibly the worst place for a cute bunch of ducklings to roost - the towpath

You would have thought a group of young ducks would have enough to worry about without their parent deciding that the canal towpath is clearly the "des res" of the decade. I'm pleased to say that as I cycled up to this group, all the cyclists were slowing down and giving them a wide berth - as were the pedestrians who all stopped to have a good look. The ducks seemed completely oblivious to any danger and didn't seem to move an inch when a bike went past. I'm hoping that soon the whole family will decide they need a swim and chose somewhere a bit quieter for their rests.
I suppose it could have been worse - on one of London's new "bike superhighways" or ... the fast lane of the M25.